THE LIGHTBULB

Amid an outcry from environmentalists, Joe Biden defended his attendance at a fundraiser co-hosted by a co-founder of a natural gas company — at the event itself.

Biden told donors gathered Thursday evening in a 30th-floor Upper West Side apartment in New York overlooking Central Park he is committed to refusing campaign contributions from fossil fuel executives, consistent with a pledge to environmental activists. The fundraiser was co-hosted by Andrew Goldman, a businessman who helped start a natural gas company called Western LNG. It was unclear if Goldman was at the event, but as of Thursday afternoon he was still considered a co-host.

“I just want to be very clear to everyone here,” Biden said, according to a pool report. “I am committed to not raising money from fossil fuel executives and I am not doing that tonight.”

A day earlier, the former vice president was pointedly questioned about the fundraiser at a CNN climate forum. Biden's struggle to respond highlights the increasing potency of environmental issues in the 2020 Democratic race as all of the major candidates have for the first time promised to reject donations from producers of fossil fuels, which scientists believe are the main contributor to climate change. It also underscores just how difficult keeping that pledge may be in a competitive and lengthy primary.

Environmental activists who succeeded in getting Biden to sign the “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge concede the former vice president did not technically break the letter of the agreement. But they suggest he broke its spirit.

“Biden holding a fundraiser organized by a natural gas company co-founder and getting advice from individuals raking in millions from fossil fuels makes it hard for young people to trust he's serious about this commitment,” said Stephen O'Hanlon, spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, one of several green groups that have hounded candidates to sign the anti-fossil fuel pledge.

Biden and 17 other presidential candidates have signed the pledge as many of the candidates themselves increasingly see the issues of growing climate-warming emissions and the outsized influence of wealthy fossil-fuel donors as inextricably linked. As long as oil, gas and coal companies pump money into political campaigns, it will be difficult to pass climate legislation that will hurt their bottom line, they say.

On Wednesday, Biden seemed to be caught off guard when asked by an activist why he was planning to attend a fundraising event hosted by Goldman. The Houston-based Western LNG, as reported by the Intercept just hours before Biden got onstage, is trying to build a floating liquefied natural gas facility off the coast of British Columbia designed to get Canadian gas to Asia.

At first, Biden dismissed the connection between Goldman, who once served as an adviser to Biden in the Senate, and the natural gas business.

“He is not a fossil fuel executive,” Biden said. 

Biden went on to note that Goldman wasn't included as one of the firm's executives in official Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

“If you look at the SEC filings, he's not listed as one of those executives,” Biden said. “That's what we look at, the SEC filings. Who are those executives? I've kept that pledge, period.”

However, Goldman is still listed on Western LNG's website as one of its co-founders. But the anti-fossil-fuel pledge made a demand of candidates too narrow to include forgoing money from Goldman. Specifically, it asks candidates to turn down donations over $200 from oil, gas and coal executives, lobbyists, and associated political action committee.(Goldman is technically none of those.)

“He seems that he's trying to work a technicality on this,” said David Turnbull, strategic communications director for Oil Change U.S., another group that has promoted the pledge.

“This is another example of the pervasiveness of fossil-fuel money in our politics,” he added.

The question to Biden during the CNN forum was orchestrated by the Sunrise Movement. One of the volunteers from its Chicago chapter, Isaac Larkin, said he originally planned to ask Biden about the oil industry's efforts to spread doubt about climate change. But then another Sunrise member sent him the Intercept story.

“I read the article and I was like, 'Oh, yeah, we really do need to ask this,' " said Larkin, who is studying for a PhD in biology at Northwestern University.

The Biden campaign declined to comment, though a campaign official noted Goldman is not involved in the company's day-to-day operations and is not on the company's board.

At the Thursday fundraiser, Biden reiterated that he regards climate change as "an existential threat." In June, Biden published a climate plan aiming to achieve net-zero climate-warming emissions by no later than the middle of the century. It comes with a price tag of $1.7 trillion over the next decade.

“I’m so tired of having a president who picks fiction over science,” he told donors. 

Without naming names, Biden suggested the climate plans from some of his 2020 rivals are unrealistic.

“You have to have plans, but you have to be able to execute those plans,” he said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who places either second or third behind Biden in national polls, last month released his own climate plan with a much bigger price tag than Biden's: $16.3 trillion.

Other campaigns have faced scrutiny for accepting donations from energy executives. At least two other candidates, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, have returned individual donations from executives, according to Oil Change U.S.

POWER PLAYS

— What a future historian might glean from watching that CNN town hall: “She will learn that candidates for our highest office, centuries after the Enlightenment, still had to declare publicly that they believe in science,” The Post’s Dan Zak writes in his takeaway from the marathon town hall. He wrote about how the “unprecedented” discussion, which often devolved into quips about lightbulbs and cheeseburgers, was a perfect time capsule for the moment. “The seven-hour town hall on the ‘climate crisis’ lasted only two-millionths of a second — if you plot it on Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar, which plunks the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang into a single calendar year — but it felt like a butt-numbing eternity when measured by the attention span of Homo sapiens,” he writes. “Between each candidate’s session, CNN updated its viewers on Dorian, a whirl of black and red on its radar. It was almost a Category 3, meteorologist Jennifer Gray said during multiple breaks. Almost a Category 3. Almost a Category 3.”

— But there was a dearth of viewers in real-time: During the seven-hour forum, CNN placed last in total viewership compared with Fox News and MSNBC, based on an analysis from Nielsen Media Research. The network averaged 1.1 million viewers, the Washington Examiner reported. It placed second in the 25 to 54 age demographic.

— GAO finds Interior broke law in reopening parks during shutdown: The Government Accountability Office says the Interior Department broke federal spending law in order to keep national parks open during the partial federal shutdown in December and January. The GAO found in a 17-page opinion that the administration violated the law when it used fees collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act that are meant to support park operations and maintenance, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports.

“The report, which was requested by the two top Democrats on the House and Senate appropriations panels overseeing Interior, used harsh language to describe the administration’s decision to tap entrance fees during the shutdown without explicit authorization from Congress,” she writes. The GAO opinion reads: “Instead of carrying out the law, Interior improperly imposed its own will. Interior cannot select which restraints apply to its appropriations and when these restraints apply.”

Trump vs. California: The Trump administration is set to release a plan that would rescind California’s ability to set vehicle emission levels that are more stringent than federal rules, Bloomberg News reports. With such a plan, the Environmental Protection Agency would rescind a waiver that allows California to set stricter rules and to require that manufacturers sell more electric vehicles each year. “The matter is still under consideration and no final decision has been made though one is expected in the coming days, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter,” per the report.

— Coal miners want out of Kentucky Senate candidate’s TV spot: A pair of coal miners have called on Democrat Amy McGrath, who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to remove their images from a campaign television ad. “The minute-long TV ad was released by McGrath’s campaign late last month. It centers on a trip to McConnell’s office in Washington by a group of coal miners with black lung disease,” The Post’s Felicia Sonmez reports. In a letter to the campaign, a lawyer for the miners said they believed the reenactment of the trip in the ad was going used for a documentary linked to the Black Lung Association, but McGrath’s campaign insists the miners signed release forms to appear in the ad.

— Environmental groups sue Trump administration over species affected by coal mining: The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration charging that it violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect species from coal mining in Appalachia. The conservation groups behind the suit — which also include the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition — cite the administration’s use of the 1996 “biological opinion” that was overturned in 2016 but reinstated by the Trump administration the following year that the center says is “now being used to ram through coal mining permits in West Virginia. This is jeopardizing streams, endangered species and people alike.”

— Google platform is surfacing climate change denial stories: Google has been pushing articles that include content that denies climate change consensus on its Discover platform, which is used by more than 800 million people a month, BuzzFeed News reports. The publication talked to eight people who were either interested in the climate or had environmental jobs who “said they received climate change denial articles on Discover, a feed of content tailored to individual users that appears as a dedicated tab on Google phones, on the Google search app, and on the Google mobile homepage.” The company told BuzzFeed that articles on Discover were curated “via algorithm.”

A notable tidbit: The Google representative “directed BuzzFeed News to a set of rules for publishers on Google News — an entirely different product. The spokesperson did not clarify whether Google considered or categorized the climate change denier site as news.”

THERMOMETER

DORIAN WATCH

The latest: The center of Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 1 storm, swirled just offshore for most of Thursday, bringing strong winds and heavy rains, spawning damaging tornadoes and floods in the Carolinas. Duke Energy reported 29,000 were without power in coastal North Carolina and into northeastern South Carolina by 8 p.m. on Thursday night. In a statement, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) urged residents to shelter in place and stay off roads until the storm passed: “We are feeling the storm’s force, but it has only started. We have a long night ahead of us,” the statement said. “As it whipped up the coast, Dorian’s final blow was still aimed at North Carolina, and forecasters warned it could make landfall Friday near the Outer Banks,” report The Post’s Reis Thebault, Fenit Nirappil and Tim Craig.

In Myrtle Beach, S.C., residents who were expecting a devastating impact Thursday evening saw rough waves and heavy flooded roads, but nothing near what they expected or had experienced as recently as last year, with Hurricane Florence.

In Florida, authorities linked six deaths in the state to Dorian, all seemingly involving people preparing for the storm or dying after evacuating as they braced for the storm, The Post’s Lori Rozsa writes.  

And the Bahamian government is continuing to dispatch helicopters, with help from U.S., British and other forces, to assess the devastation, but the process will be challenging. “Because the storm surge flooded so many communities, with jagged debris submerged underneath, officials cannot easily land helicopters or navigate to local ports to deliver food and water,” The Post’s Maria Sacchetti writes. Thousands are believed to be missing and the official death toll is at 30, though it’s expected to rise. In Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, The Post’s Antony Faiola writes about teams in hazmat suits “performing the grim, grueling duty of digging through the rubble for remains.”

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the reorganization and relocation of the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters on Sept. 10.
EXTRA MILEAGE

—  Nine tweets and five maps: That’s how much the president has (so far) tweeted about Alabama and Dorian. Not to mention that he defended an altered hurricane map that was draw-on with Sharpie and had the White House release a statement defending his erroneous warning that Dorian was going to impact Alabama. “Trump’s fixation on his erroneous Dorian warnings underscores a long history of defending inaccurate claims — from the crowd size at his inaugural address to false claims of voter fraud in 2016 to fictional ‘unknown Middle Easterners’ streaming across the southern border in migrant caravans,” The Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey write.